By JESSE BURKHARDT
A formal moratorium on new water connections in the city of White Salmon is now in place, following a 3-0 City Council vote last week. The vote makes official a "moratorium on further water connections and applications for water connections."
The moratorium automatically expires in six months, although the council has the option of renewing it.
The city has been under a de facto moratorium for the past three years, but a close reading of state law indicates a formal city ordinance needs to be passed to have a moratorium -- and the city has no record this was ever done.
A June 17 public hearing on the water moratorium ordinance was essentially in vain -- not one citizen spoke up during the hearing.
Ken Woodrich, the city's attorney, provided City Council members with a 12-point "Findings of Fact" in support of the water moratorium ordinance.
Some of the specific findings Woodrich listed included:
On or about May 6, 2009, the Washington Department of Health and Washington Department of Ecology issued a letter to the city clarifying that no more water connections would be allowed within the city or its service district;
DOH engineer Andy Cervantes sent an e-mail to the city on June 12, 2009 (an excerpt of which is as follows): "... the city of White Salmon's limiting factor for growth is the annual volume limit of the existing water right. The ability to add new connections is not there based on the information provide to our office. Currently, our office shows the total number of existing connections equals the total number of improved connections. It appears the city has very little flexibility to add any new connections based on the data provided";
The city has no formal water moratorium currently in effect;
The city has been keeping an informal "waiting list" for potential water customers without any ordinance legislating how the "waiting list" is to be implemented;
The city needs time to secure water rights; and
The water moratorium ordinance will provide the city time to 1) pass legislation to governor implementation of the waiting list for potential water connections; 2) construct the slow-sand filtration plant and reservoir projects on Buck Creek; 3) secure additional water rights.
"Are there any additions to these, or comments on them?" Mayor David Poucher asked of the public, but no comments were forthcoming.
Council member Brad Roberts said he supported the findings suggested by Woodrich.
"This looks to me that this is something we need to adopt," Roberts said. "I agree with all of these findings, and I can't think of any more."
Council member Richard Marx questioned the need for the ordinance, pointing out that the city had already been practicing a water moratorium over the past three years.
Woodrich pointed out that it has to be put into place by a formal ordinance, something the city had not previously done.
Marx noted that there are a number of water customers who are out of the area and have essentially had their water shut off.
"If those inactive meters go active, the city can't provide the water," Marx warned.
"If they start using water again, there will be even less water in the system -- so there is no better time to put the brakes on [with a moratorium] than now," Woodrich responded. "If we can service the people already hooked up, then we can look at possibly adding new connections. Water service to the people of White Salmon is maxed out. Is it responsible to add connections if the city doesn't have enough water?"
Woodrich added that the council could revoke the moratorium at any time if conditions change. He also pointed out that if the city needed to extend the moratorium after six months, a new one could be approved -- but it would require another vote and an entirely new set of "findings of fact" to justify the extension.
The vote to approve the moratorium was 3-0, with councilors Roberts, Mark Peppel, and Bob Landgren in support. Marx abstained from the vote.
"I abstained from the moratorium vote because it is based on false statements made by the city administration," Marx said after the meeting. "I object to the water moratorium because the city in fact has been under a water moratorium. The resolution negligently represents the city of White Salmon's water system. Where is the loyalty?"
Marx referred to a May 6 letter from the Washington Department of Health, which noted that the city had initiated a water moratorium.
"A moratorium on new connections was initiated primarily because the city was exceeding its water rights by more than 40 percent," read an excerpt from the letter, addressed to White Salmon Mayor David Poucher and signed by Denise Clifford of the Washington Department of Health.
"It was `initiated,' so it was done. There's the proof," Marx said. "The DOH states the water moratorium was initiated, period."
After the vote, local resident Eric Swanson asked the city to provide some type of timeline for when the water supply issues might be resolved.
"Once new water rights are issued, we'll be set for 500-600 connections," Wellman said. When the door opens, it will open all the way."
Councilor Peppel said he wanted citizens to know the water moratorium was temporary in nature.
"As long as people know this is only for six months," Peppel said. "We may not have to renew this."
Poucher said he was optimistic the moratorium could be lifted before the six months is up.
"If we get additional water rights in July, we could immediately lift the moratorium by ordinance," Poucher said.
Woodrich asked the city to clarify for the record how the proposed allocation of water from Lake Roosevelt, behind the Grand Coulee Dam, could help provide water rights for White Salmon.
"Anything connected to the Columbia River is treated as part of the same source," Poucher explained.